A Few Charms (Banner)

A Few Charms (Banner)

Monday, 16 June 2014

What keeps a marriage strong? Three little reminders

The love story continues on "Marriage Mondays."

I don't want you to think from my last few posts that things have always been all hearts and roses in my marriage. We have had many struggles over the years - MANY! Not the least of which was my clinical depression, with suicidal thoughts, years off work on disability, and various manifestations of my eating disorder. Yes, we still fight. But we jokingly say that our fights are not as loud as they were 20 years ago (well most of them), and they don't last all night anymore. 

When we first got together there were two important things that helped us STAY together. One was taking the Myers-Briggs Personality assessments. We took it because we were considering career options, but it's biggest influence was on our marriage and our understanding of each other's personalities. Let's just say it answered lots of those, "Why do you do the things you do?" questions, and those "How do you get through LIFE like this?" conundrums.

The other thing that had a huge impact was reading "Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus." I kid you not! It was SO true for each of us - and SO enlightening! We'd say, "Really? That's what you need?!" We still use the lessons learned from that book.

One of the most helpful strategies was learning to "write a love letter." The basic premise is that writing a letter - rather than yelling - is easier for the other person to hear, and helps us (the writer) to sort through our feelings on paper, which  is less damaging than doing it verbally. It also helps us figure out what it is we need from the other person, how to ask for it, and how to receive it, thus allowing ourselves to be supported. The "love letter" charm reminds me that this strategy makes it easier for my introverted and sensitive husband to hear the complaints of his extroverted and intensely emotional wife. But for my husband in particular it also helps in learning how to ask for what he needs. Neither of us learned as children that it was OK to have emotions, or needs, or to ask for the support we needed. And believe me, there's a learning curve!

Since our 12-year-old twins were born, our marriage has survived raising twins (enough said!), my caring for my mother with her many health complications including Alzheimer's, my father-in-law's cancer, the loss of three parents between us, serious medical issues for me, my ongoing depression and recovery from my eating disorder, our daughter's learning disability and son's emotional health concerns, and financial crises large and small. I realize that many of my friends have been through MUCH more, but those were the things that challenged us, and led us to marriage counselling.

In marriage counselling we, once again, learned two important things that have endured. The first was the analogy of marriage being like a garden - I like a rose garden. To keep that garden growing you need to dig up the weeds and water and fertilize the garden for it to grow and be healthy. We have worked on weeding out some of the things that choke off growth, but we are just recently starting to do some weekly maintenance weeding with meetings (often on the phone) to manage the lives of our family of four.

One of our biggest challenges is that we sometimes forget that we need to "fertilize our rose garden" (and no, not in the way you are thinking). As soon as we find ourselves impatient with each other, or irritated or annoyed, we realize we haven't been "fertilizing our rose garden" and we need to go on a date, spend time together, and remember why we loved each other in the first place! The "rose leaf" charm reminds me that this strategy always works!

The other thing our marriage counsellor did was ask us to do some homework. And that was, to make a list for the other person, completing the sentence, "I feel closer to you when..." We were both very surprised by the other person's responses. For example, my husband always unlocks the passenger side car door for me, but once I am in, he (apparently) would like it if I then unlocked it for him - rather than putting on my sunglasses or lipstick! Such a simple thing! Now, every time I do this, he grins, and jokingly says, "Thanks! I feel so much closer to you now!" The little "row of hearts" spacer reminds me of all those little gestures of love that do help us feel closer to each other.

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